24 June, 2008

BVC - a facebook discussion

I hope Rupert won't mind if I take his FB note and the comments afterwards. I thought it was an interesting debate. Surnames have been deleted to make sure people aren't published if they don't want to be. If anyone is in thsi note and doesn't want t be, tell me, I'll delete you.
Rupert's note:

I wrote another letter to the editor of The Times. This has been bugging me for a while, and I thought I ought to point it out. What do people think?


For hundreds of students, the Inns of Court provide generous support
to enable young people to become barristers. As one of the students to
have attended the Bar Vocational Course at BPP law school in Holborn,
the first private UK company to be given degree awarding powers by the
Privy Council, my exhibition from the Inner Temple has gone directly
towards the profit of BPP shareholders.

Course fees for the BVC rise each year, with BPP's fees jumping 11.4%
to £14,150 in 2008, compared with the charitable City Law (formerly
ICSL) School's 4.3% rise to £13,250 ("How much an LPC or BVC will cost
you" May 5, 2008).

The link between charity and private enterprise can be a
disincentivising one - fewer people may donate to the Inns' funds as
the prices for the BVC rise every year. Future donors might wish to
specify that their award go only to students attending a course
provider which operates as a charitable organisation.

Rachel (Columbia) wrote
at 11:59am on June 20th, 2008
I think you are heading for one heck of a pillow fight with the big man...

Miss Middle wrote
at 12:05pm on June 20th, 2008
But when even the cheapest BVC course is £8000 and that funding is used to subsidise other courses (the same way as they use international students' fees) then there isn't a 'charitable' option.

The purpose of the BVC scholarships isn't charity towards an institution, but to the individual student. It therefore doesn't matter how that student spends the money, provided they end up passing the BVC at the end of it.

Where an organisation gave a living grant to a person, would you object to that person buying clothes from Topshop because it is a commercial enterprise rather than Oxfam? I can't imagine that you would! Instead, I imagine you would be happy that the grant was going towards their living costs.

Brian (Cambridge) wrote
at 2:15pm on June 20th, 2008
I do see what you mean, and I think my gut reaction would be the same. But as people have pointed out, charitable funds have to be used to buy commercial services all the time. The key is the aim, rather than the final result. I suppose it's almost analogous to the fact that the ICLR is a charity, even though people obviously make vast sums of money from the law reports!

On the BVC, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on my post at http://briansloan.livejournal.com/98209.html.

David (London) wrote
at 4:40pm on June 20th, 2008
Afraid I agree with Miss Middle(which normally means I'm right, in my experience); once you acknowledge the existence of for-profit private enterprise companies providing the course, the fact that the funding bodies are charitable makes no difference.

In fact to be honest the 'private' nature of the course provider isn't really relevant from the angle you're complaining about - most 'charitable' universities are run for profit just as much as pedagogy, even if that has been forced onto them by blinkered educational policy.

That said, allowing private companies to do this sort of thing is a classic example of why privitisation of educational 'services' is bullshit. The purpose of the BVC should be to prepare you for pupillage; at BPP the purpose is to provide shareholder value. The BVC isn't even BPP's main profit driver, they just use it for prestige. Which is why you pay extortionate sums to get taught nothing by incompetent men and neurotic women on a career break...

Miss Middle wrote
at 5:19pm on June 20th, 2008
What worries me is how much better the teaching on the GDL at BPP was last year, compared to the teaching at MMU on the BVC this year....

Fred (SOAS) wrote
at 5:51pm on June 20th, 2008
The sooner the BVC is abolished the better, the problem is that BPP with their corporate ethos have managed to furthur entrench some of the more fictious benefits of the BVC.

I think that alllowing more private sector involvement will perpetuate the ever increasing price rises. Donors to scholarships may not have a clue how the funding process works - but by allowing the money grabbing to go on unchecked course fees will continue to rise as will debts as will the need for larger and larger scholarships. There will be a point where Inns scholarships just won't be able to realsitically cover the fees.

Miss Middle wrote
at 6:11pm on June 20th, 2008
Am I over simplifying by observing that there isn't a monopoly on BVC provision and thinking that basic supply and demand kicks in at some point?

When BPP and ICSL are c£14000 but Bristol, MMU, Northumbria and Glamorgan are only c£8000, it's not like people are being forced to choose the most expensive provider.

Rosie(London) wrote
at 6:21pm on June 20th, 2008
I also agree with Miss Middle, if you don't wish all of the scholarship money to go to your bvc provider go to a non london provider where not only is the course cheaper but the cost of living is also easier

the vast majority of us have chosen to do a course which we went into with our eyes wide open about how bad it was (and if you didn't you only had to ask around as any one could tell you) and we did it to get the qualification, unfortunately a lot of people had the same idea therefore, more people applying higher fees can be charged

Fred (SOAS) wrote
at 6:36pm on June 20th, 2008
But supply and demand don't always work as market regulatory mechanisms and this is a case in point.

Firstly the increase in supply has come in out of London providers. There are not as many pupillages outside London and for those looking for pupillage inside London a year outside London may not always be the best choice for them. Also the quality of some out of London providers has been questioned. Now befoe I open I can of worms - I am talking about perception issues here and how indviduals think about things when making choices about their life. Given these perception issues even though course fees are less outside london, the providers inside London can increase fees without reference to what out of London providers are doing.

Secondly the role of the private sector in thsi market has a slightly distorting effect. BPP, unless specifically regulated otherwise, has a commercial incentive to increase the number of places on its course completly

Rosie (London) wrote
at 6:38pm on June 20th, 2008
but it is specifically regulated, that's what the bar council does, the bar council regulates the amount of people that are allowed on each course

Miss Middle wrote
at 6:49pm on June 20th, 2008

I agree that London and provincial courses aren't directly comparable for the majority, but there is a certain substitutability which will only increase with price discrepancy.

But even within London, there are three providers (I believe?). If BPP starts charging £14k but ICSL remains £12K and the other one (maybe) £11K then there is still a fairly startling choice within London.

I think there is a perception that the course at BPP is better taught than at other institutions - (and my experience between BPP and MMU would seem to be a case in point) and that the better teaching allows it to charge more. Equally, there is the perception ICSL is still preferred by some chambers and so people are willing to pay for that.

I'll agree its not a perfectly competitive, but I still say it's far from monopoly or oligopoly. The choice of price is there, it just depends on whether you wish to make other changes in your life.

Alex(Cambridge) wrote
at 8:56pm on June 20th, 2008
Er, I don't see the problem.

First, this is a competitive market. The fact that BPP charge more than the other providers should be something that prospective students weigh in the balance when choosing a BVC provider.

Secondly, all BVC providers are looking to expand. If anything, BPP are *less* cavalier in allowing half-wits in to study than, say, ICSL. BPP have the highest percentage of the London providers of students who have/get pupillage.

Thirdly, I really don't think that poor teaching on the BVC is isolated to BPP! And I'm speaking from bitter, bitter, experience.

Fred(SOAS) wrote
at 11:00pm on June 20th, 2008
To be honest - this is all a bit of a waste of time. The BVC is a waste of time and BPP's entry and presence into the waste of time market has created a cost spiral that won't slow down anytime soon.

I think my point was that BPP given their corporate ethos are probaby more responsible than others for this ever increasing waste of money that people are forced to endure. At the same time I take Alex's point that ICSL does have a bit of a reputation for parting people with no real prospects of obtaining pupillage from large sums of money and in doing so do their bit to add to this madness.

Fred(SOAS) wrote
at 11:13pm on June 20th, 2008
To be honest I am also quite in favour of some kind of cap being imposed on fees for this kind of course and training and of possibly changing the entire dynamic of the course to deal with the ridiculous levels of debt and price cutting going on in legal aid

I just think there is something distrubing in the ethos that the bar council and others seem to have - because lots of people apply to do the BVC this is just market forces at work. True, but there is the real possiblity that the debt levels created by the BVC may put people off from doing, or staying in publically funded work

Just a thought - It is something that is serriously bothering me

Kathryn(London) wrote
at 11:14pm on June 20th, 2008
I enjoyed the last year on the BVC and the previous year on the GDL at BPP. They do, at least, care if you pass or fail and offer plenty of advice and practice interviews etc unlike other providers, unlike my university, unlike my A-Level college, unlike any of my schools...

It is good for there to be competition and for a privately run institution to set a standard that invoves more teaching, higher trained teachers and more resources that the other institutions. The principle is surely right even if there are problems with the course in practice.

I don't agree it was a waste of time- Fred- could you really do this time last year what you can do now?? The issue is rather how the course is taught (whether it is efficiently taught) and whether there is propert use of funds.

No institution can be more of a waste of money, time or brain cells that Edinburgh University anyway-4 years/ £12k and all you develop is a drink problem.

Rupert- reform the education system not the BVC.

Fred(SOAS) wrote
at 12:09am on June 21st, 2008
No - I feel more stupid now that's the difference before and after the BVC for me

- and I don't know about any of the other of your schools but I would say that Hills Road is better than BPP in terms of teachers who gave a damn

Who knows maybe the BPP BVC is better taught due to higher fees etc. We certainly are better resourced than other providers

- but I think this is a moot point - the underlying problem is that the course is pointless in the extreme and it is my personal belife that ever increasing costs serve as a perverse bootstrapping mechanism for BVC providers and other interested party to justify the importance of their course

Rowena (King's College London) wrote
at 5:25am on June 21st, 2008
Alex, apparently Nottingham has the highest rate of those with pupillage...Beepers are third

I am reserving all other comment until after Thursday...


David(London) wrote
at 11:47am on June 21st, 2008
Miss Middle- pupillage providers on Circuit are importanti n obviating the need to do Bar finals in London if you don't want to practise there, but they are there to service their local Circuit and if you want to practise in London they're not the best option, if for no other reason that getting pupillage is as much about work experience and networking as anything else, and you need to be in the right town to get that.

Kat - competition's not a good in itself, and BPP are a very good example of the myth of the private sector showing 'best practice' to the public. BPP are much better resourced, and I've doubt that some of the tutors genuinely care about their students, but not one of them would be there if they had been succesful in practice (except those who left to have kids) and the general level of teaching when I was there was awful.

They don't teach you - they tell you what 'skills' you are expected to acquire and then examine you on them without showing you how to improve.

David(London) wrote
at 11:56am on June 21st, 2008
Fred - you're dead right about publicly funded law. People at Bindmans have already commented on how the Bar used to be almost entirely comprised of independently wealthy posh kids with a social conscience, and though that's been less so more recently they expect this to happen again with the combination of legal aid cuts and the cost of training soaring.

At the end of the day though the big issue here is what Rosie's alluded to - the Bar Council may 'regulate' the BVC but they continue to allow far to many people to take the course and generate massive debt when there are simply not enough jobs at the end. Every year 1000 more people do the BVC than there are pupillages on offer. That's pretty scandalous - there need to be higher entry standards and an interview for the BVC.

Rupert(Cambridge) wrote
at 1:43pm on June 21st, 2008
I agree with your comments about entry. The added cost to BVC students of paying a profit margin is avoidable quite simply if donors to the scholarship funds specify another institution. The cost of the BVC to all students is increased when profit-motivated schools (there is academic competition between universities without the private sector) create salary inflation problems for good teachers.

Rupert(Cambridge) wrote
at 1:43pm on June 21st, 2008
Once BPP establish themselves as a legitimate (and good) law school then they have the market bagged: nervous young lawyers will stump up hideous amounts in the hope of securing their careers ("BPP have the highest percentage of the London providers of students who have/get pupillage" - Alex), and to avoid charges of elitism the bar will be effectively forced to subsidise the sky-high fees for students of merit to attend the most expensive course.

A GCSE level understanding of supply and demand just doesn't fit this scenario. This is a relatively price inelastic situation: BPP are the most expensive and oversubscribed.

Unless the Inns truly believe that what BPP does is significantly better and that this quality in the BVC is what the bar needs above all else (economic efficiency, access, equality, value) then they should kill the problem now by expressing a preference for better value providers which don't profit and have an incentive to maximise profit...

Miss Middle wrote
at 11:44pm yesterday
You're assuming those providers exist!

Bad teaching is the same across the whole of the BVC, I don't think there is any justification for picking out business BVC providers on this basis! I realise that to an extent I am comparing apples and oranges, but I found BPP was fantastic for the GDL and I'm finding MMU is crap for the BVC. That's not on issue such as teaching etc, it's on plain organisation and doing things which make students lives easier, like lecture handouts, like timetables more than 1 week in advance, like putting anything at all on the internet for people to access (to name just a few of my bug bears). Frankly, the difference in cost between BPP leeds and MMU was £4000 and if I had the knowledge that I do now, I'd go to Leeds. This is despite the fact I want to work, live and practice in Manchester. Sure, only an hour or two apart, but the comparison is there.

Miss Middlewrote
at 11:50pm yesterday
And in terms of the 'GCSE supply and demand', my comment was a tad more subtle than that. I'm not claiming that its a perfectly competitive market, frankly, I wouldn't claim that for carrots, but the existence of a market which isn't perfectly competitive doesn't justify government (or other) regulation, however much money is involved. So, there's some difference between a Ferrari and a BMW, so they both charge slightly different prices that many of us wouldn't consider worth the money - doesn't mean someone form the outside has to step in.

None of us are suggesting that we thought pupillage was easy to get or that the BVC providers systematically collude to artificially raise prices. We all walked into this with our eyes open and our egos sufficiently large to think that we would be the ones who make it. Frankly, anyone who is ignorant of the risks or who cannot analyse them is obviously not suitable for the bar in the first place.

Pro bono work is more interesting issue....

Miss Middle wrote
at 11:56pm yesterday
But I think it is one which could be sorted out separately from BVC funding/places.

Out of curiousity, do you find organisations labelled 'charity' for tax purposes (such as universities) are actually more moral than an organisation which is upfront and says 'we're going to charge more, we're going to make a profit. Yet students will want to come to us because we will be seen as the best'.

I think that entry requirements for the BVC is a difficult one. We could say no one with less than 320 UCAS points and a 2.1 could get in - but there are always exceptional cases.

How to improve? Make every student who applies tick a box to say 'yes, we're read he 2500 applications to 400 tenancies' statistics. Make every BVC provider publish the number of their students who get various grade, pupillage and what grades they got at uni and school. Give people more info, then let them decide if it's worth it. If they can't analyse the risk, bad luck, it's a stupid person tax.

Miss Middle wrote
at 11:57pm yesterday
... (as the person who received another rejection today, I still feel the 'stupid person tax' is justified.)

1 comment:

Law Minx said...

A fascinating debate, Ms M, and a truly difficult one to resolve satisfactorily. Perhaps I shall add my 10p worth to it on my next visit to FB.
BTW - I had ANOTHER rejection today from a chambers that I am not terrbily bothered about, though it has attracted my ire with its chicken- and- egg attitude to mini pupillage. grrrr.....!!!